How to Create a Community Engagement Program for $0: A Case Study

A Philly311 Neighborhood Liaison Training Session

When we implemented Philly311 in 2008, we had no marketing budget. This was a problem.  As the City of Philadelphia did not have a 311 system before, the idea of the contact center was foreign and we had no money to communicate its purpose to citizens. How could we properly serve our customers if our customers did not know about us? As any financial constraint does, our lack of a marketing budget led us to think creatively. What resulted was an effective community engagement program that cost us $0.  Here’s how we did it:

Define a Purpose that is Meaningful to Your Customers/Community

In any program implementation, the first, most important step of the process is to define a purpose. In creating a community engagement program, you need to make sure that this purpose is beneficial to community members. For us, we wanted to create a community engagement program that not only educates the public about the 311 system but empowers them to use the contact center to make a difference in their community. Such would help us market Philly311 while providing a better level of service for our customers.

Develop a Program with No Incurred Cost

Once we had defined our purpose of education and empowerment, we could begin to develop a plan for a program. In this plan, we chose to give community members personal accounts in our work system portal so that they could directly enter and check the status of service requests. In order to obtain a personal account, community members needed to attend one training session taught by a Philly311 representative. This program would be called the Philly311 Neighborhood Liaison Program and would cost us $0.

Choose the Right Neighborhoods, Partners and Employees

After developing our program, we moved to the implementation phase, actually bringing our training sessions into neighborhoods. As Philly311 was a new service with very little name recognition, we needed to choose our target market wisely, especially because we had no money for a full-scale, city-wide effort. This meant that we needed partnerships. With partnerships, we could have an established audience in a location with resources (projector, chairs, computers, etc.) in exchange for a one-hour presentation that would be meaningful to the organization. For these partnerships, we looked internally at programs like PhillyRising and externally for various community and neighborhood organizations that were open to hosting our training sessions. Sometimes, we needed multiple partners for one location. If a community organization wanted us to give a presentation but had no computers in their facility, we looked for an additional partnering organization that could provide them.  Coming up with the resources for a community engagement effort is like a complicated puzzle—it might take you some time but usually the right pieces can be found.

The second piece of this step was to find the right Philly311 representative to present in communities. This was essential. In looking for the right employees, we looked for those who were not only passionate about Philly311, but who were also willing and able to take on more work. While we were able to offer overtime pay, these employees would be going above and beyond their job descriptions in becoming a “spokesperson” for the contact center.  To get this effort off the ground, it was necessary for myself and other senior-level employees to present at the Neighborhood Liaison training sessions and to attend various community meetings to establish partnerships.

Invite Feedback for Sustainability

Once the Philly311 Neighborhood Liaison effort was up and running, we needed to ensure that it was sustainable. A no-cost way of accomplishing this was to make regular “check-up” calls to liaisons to invite feedback on the program, the 311 service or to set-up another community meeting.

Since 2009, the Philly311 Neighborhood Liaison Program has trained over 600 liaisons in Philadelphia. We continue to make regular “check-up” calls, establish new partnerships and find new ways to improve the program.

I hope this post helps you in creating a community engagement program for $0. If you have any questions about our process, please feel free to leave a comment.

0a87dc88be2bd3c4377aed9a2380550eRosetta Carrington Lue is the Chief Customer Service Officer and Senior Advisor to the City of Philadelphia’s Managing Director. Follow Rosetta on Twitter @Rosettalue or visit her blog at

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